This talk is Karma – Kill Not the Self Disc2
The verse from the Gita is: ‘He who sees the Lord, standing equally everywhere, kills not the self by the self. Thus, he attains the highest goal.’ This phrase, ‘Self by the self,’ comes often in the Gita: ‘Let him raise himself by himself. Let him not degrade himself by himself. Let him find himself in himself, by himself. Let him not harm himself by himself.’
There are two selves: a full self, which is a reflection of the true self, associated with what are called ‘upadhi’, or ‘accidental conjunctions’, ‘accidental associations’, and there is the true self, which is not connected with any of these things by nature.
An example of upadhi, of the accidental connection – a quite dramatic one – is that there’s a tomb in Westminster Abbey of Edward I. He was a famous conqueror and a rather devious man. It was he who, first of all the nations of Europe, England expelled the Jews, 1292. They wanted their money back. Of course, that was a provocation and it suddenly struck him that he was wrong to allow these non-Christians to live in Britain, so he took their money and drove them out.
He was not exactly a straightforward man, but on his tomb there is written: ‘pactum est factum’ – ‘promised is done’. From this little inscription, he’s got quite a reputation of being a very straightforward man, but actually it was written hundreds of years later about someone else and in a different connection.
This is like upadhi. It happens to be connected with Edward I but really is nothing to do with him. Shankara makes this point that the full self is set up by this sort of connection. We think, “I am born a citizen. I am born a man or woman. I am born tall or short. I’m born fat or thin. I have become rich or poor.” All these are accidental associations. “I am timid. I am brave.” We feel this is the nature of the person.
A very experienced general who was noted for his personal bravery, he remarked once: “There’s no man so brave that under certain circumstances he won’t panic, and cut and run, and there is no-one so timid that under certain circumstances they won’t fight like a lion.” These possibilities, as our teacher so often emphasised, are latent in everybody.
There is a famous verse which is often repeated: ‘By the Lord’s grace, the lame climb mountains, and the dumb speak.’ When it is said, ‘Accept your limitations,’ this is imposing the false limitations of avidya onto what is really infinite, but it makes a limited personality.
Just to illustrate the point, this is a picture of triangles. Most people say there are two triangles there, but people who’ve done a little bit at school a little more recently say, “There are three triangles there,” and can see that if we count the triangles, but then somebody says, “This one isn’t actually a triangle, because there’s a gap here. There’s a gap. By the way, this one is half red. Are you going to count that as a full triangle? This is the same as that,” but it isn’t, because this one is half red.
We can only reach the number three by ignoring the differences between them, but to operate in society we have to do this. To make the laws of nature work, we have to ignore these differences between things and just take, for instance, a number.
If we want to design a lift, we say, “The capacity of the lift is 15 persons,” but there are people who weigh 40 stone. If 15 of them got in the lift… (Laughter) But that’s ignored, no. You can’t operate without ignoring these things. In the end, we can only operate on a very limited basis. We don’t see and can’t take into account the full truth of even the empirical facts that we see in front of us.
These associations which make us great, or small, or brave, or timid, or clever, or stupid, our teacher often pointed out that people like Newton or Einstein were regarded as very stupid children. In fact, Einstein was sent home from school. He educated himself, but the report on him at university by his famous teacher, Minkowski: ‘Very useless, weak in mathematics and always lost in his foolish dreams.’ Their genius was not recognised. He said, “There is this capacity for inspiration from the cosmic mind, in everybody.”
In one of Voltaire’s little satirical essays – I think it’s called ‘Micromégas’ – anyway, it’s a sort of a science-fiction thing where a visitor comes from a distant planet, and he observes the Earth and the people on the Earth. He’s amazed at how stupid we are and how badly behaved we are, and he thinks, “How does this thing run at all?”
Then one evening he sees a number of people, and they’re listening to a man and a woman. The man and woman, they’re talking the most beautiful language and speaking of very profound things. He realises these, are those, are the people who instruct the earthlings and make it possible for civilisation to happen at all.
The next evening, he goes to the same place and they’re there again but saying different things now. They are most elevating, and wonderful, and profound, so he follows them home and he finds, to his amazement, that this king and queen of philosophers live in a tiny little garret. They’re actors and they’re simply repeating words with which they have no real connection at all. He finds they hardly understand what they’ve said, but it’s true this sort of connection that Shankara says, ‘The differences in the world are created. They’re seeming differences and they’re not… They don’t truly represent anything.’
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Karma – Kill Not the Self
Part 2: Cohesion of the universe
Part 4: Kill Not the Self – Karma
Part 5: The true self is unseen